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What It's Like to Choreograph a Dance-Only Episode on HBO
Ever wondered what happens in those seedy chain motels attached to airports? In the new HBO anthology series Room 104 Room 104 , created by Mark and Jay Duplass, it's everything from the funny and eccentric to the creepy and absurd.
With no connecting story for its characters, each episode takes place in one motel room. Episode 6 titled "Voyeurs" which airs tonight depicts a housekeeper reconnecting with her younger self in a dialogue-free episode of solely dance.
Dendrie Taylor as Housekeeper and Sarah Hay as Girl, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
We caught up with Dayna Hanson, who wrote, directed and choreographed the episode, to get the inside scoop.
How did you get involved with Room 104?
In May 2016 I was invited by executive producer Xan Aranda to imagine a dance-driven episode. I pitched several concepts, each taking a different approach to the integration of dance in a story-based television episode, and they liked "Voyeurs."
What attracted you to this project?
It's not every day that you get to conceptualize something that has never been seen on TV before. The challenges of writing a linear story that uses dance as its expressive language were so appealing. Working with Sarah Hay and Dendrie Taylor was also hugely attractive—both are actors and human beings of terrific depth, talent and intelligence.
How much did you know about the other episodes before filming yours?
Not much! I had very little context other than the conceptual framework of the series. That mystery actually added to the excitement.
Sarah Hay as Girl, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
Did knowing this was for a TV series push your work in a different direction than if you had just been making this as a dance film?
Many of the short dance films I've directed in the past have taken a looser or more experimental approach to narrative—or they simply haven't been narrative. In this case, I knew that the script wouldn't have been greenlit if it didn't hold up narratively. During the writing process, there was great discussion about how important it was that this episode function as a story first, then as a dance. That wasn't imposed on me—I agreed. I wanted to create an experience in which the characters on the screen draw the viewer in, and we get wrapped up in them and in their story.
What was the most challenging part?
Time was limited: I had under 25 hours of rehearsal with my actors, total. That included around 10 hours on the stage, which was precious. We added a rehearsal in a motel down the street in Glendale, but even that was of limited value because the room layout and dimensions were different. The stage the only place where we had access to the actual props, beds, spacing and geometry of the room. Limited rehearsals meant that shooting required even more from Sarah and Dendrie, who delivered on a heroic level.
Dendrie Taylor and Sarah Hay with Dayna Hanson on set, PC: Jordin Althaus/HBO
Do you have any favorite moments in the episode?
There are a few moments when the characters connect in a way that really gets me. The currency of the story is visual, not text-based; in some ways it's comparable to silent film. But rather than using the histrionics of silent film we went for subtlety, specificity and authenticity in the actors' performances. I've always found emotional truth in physical detail—this was an amazing opportunity to mine that territory.
As well as being an extraordinary actor, Sarah Hay is an amazing dancer with a professional ballet career under her belt already (a second soloist with the Semperoper Ballet). She's also incredibly open, aesthetically and stylistically. Working with her was a dream, and the solo I set on her is one of my favorite moments of the episode.
What does it mean to you to help put dance on HBO?Such a thrill! We see dance in commercials, music videos, competition dance shows. Occasionally characters in a series will break into a dance moment, but that's a rare; even more rare is a dance-centered series like Flesh and Bone, in which Sarah starred. This is a little different, partly because Room 104 is a little different. The show itself, in taking a fresh look at the old anthology format, is rewriting the terms. This episode upends the show's terms by telling a story in another expressive language. I hope it serves to score one for Team Dance. It would be incredible if this episode could help open doors to new ways of imagining dance on television.
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.
Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.
In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.